Monday, August 4, 2014

“Look, kids, there’s Big Ben and Parliament!”

There's nothing like the challenge of a 3.54km loop done 28 times. And I don't mean the running. Trying to come up with a race report for this was just as tough as getting up out of bed this morning!

I've recently been inspired by this satirical masterpiece by Clay Foote. If you haven't read it, I couldn't think of a better way to pass some time. It's brilliant. Nadine needed assistance getting up off the floor in fits of laugher after she read this line:
"I was delighted to be greeted by my family at the checkpoint. Or at least I think it was my family. Having seen them so rarely during my relentless training for this event, I sometimes find them hard to recognise as their appearance changes due to the progress of age and the way that bitterness and frustration alters their facial expressions.")

So in an effort to be less blow by blow (not that there were many), and more about what was going on through my head, I give you 1:06s of classic cinema.



So this is what the Centennial Park Ultra felt like. As one follower on Strava commented quite rightly, 'Looks like you had trouble finding the exit, just kept missing it!'

Quite true! So what exactly motivated me to run 28 times around one of Sydney's busiest parks, following a poorly painted white fence, dodging stray soccer balls, avoiding freshly dropped horse poo and zombie like folk concentrating more on their iPhones than the runners on the path they were walking across?

Well to answer this I best put on my coach's cap.

My last A race of the year is the World 100K Road Champs in late November. This is, for want of a better term, the IAU flagship event. So the focus for me is more on road and less on trails for the rest of the year. What the!! Now why I would do such a silly thing? It's simple. There is no higher honour than representing your country and this is one of only a few ways an ultra runner can. The other reason is that I love running trails, and to be frank, I've had my fair share of trail goodness already this year. So it sounds crazy, but shifting my focus to something different for a little while will make me appreciate the trails even more.

So point one; motivation and a new focus.

But why yesterday's race? Well I really want to lower my road 100k PB (6:55) in November, but also crack the top 10 at the Worlds. To do this I:
a) had to give my body a fresh experience of what it feels like to run hard on flat terrain for 100k
b) be capable of holding sub 4:15 pace and then some for 100k, and 
c) experience the sensory deprivation (mental challenge) of running 100k on a flat, predictable course.

So off I went yesterday, with the race plan to roughly hold 4:15s as long as possible and then deal with the issues that I knew would surface later on in. It was not a smart race plan, but this wasn't so much a race as much as it was a training session. I mean, would I go out and run 100km on the road in training? Probably not. So this was a good opportunity that I couldn't miss.

And things did go to plan...I held the pace for 60 odd kms before the pace began slipping. The hurt inevitably came on and I was asked a lot of questions. I began looking for exits in that white fence but like the Griswalds, I couldn't get out!

So it ticked all the boxes. It ticked even more when the winning prize included wine and chocolate. Thanks Sean and Mel from Mountain Sports for taking this event on. There is definitely a place for this event as it is very entry level and it was great to see new runners and families running out enjoying ultra running!

I'd gone around so many times I'd forgotten how many laps to go!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Oxfam Trailwalker - Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic!

If you thought running 100km through rugged Sydney bushland is tough, try keeping a Trailwalker team together from the time they decide to enter to race day! Such has been the journey for team Hammer Nutrition.

Our team is actually an amalgamation of 3 teams and how this came about is a remarkable story in itself!

First there was Team 2773, a local Blue Mountains team; a strong team too made up of Grant McFadden, Shane Simpson, Andy Lee and Paul 'Robbo' Robertson. Unfortunately Shane and Grant, both carrying niggling injuries, realised that Robbo, who has been setting the trails of Glenbrook alight in recent weeks, and seasoned trail guru Andy would probably run them into the ground come race day. They didn't fancy that and wisely 'stepped aside'.

This started the chain of phone calls, who only Telstra could find the funny side of. First I was called in to fill one of the spots; I found a spot in my calendar between my 5km parkrun and other ultra events. I then suggested that a perusal of the Top 10 men at TNF100 this year would be the best way to start the recruitment process. This team still had their number 1 aim in mind; to break the existing course record and do it well. We had, after all, the course record holders, Quality Meats to reckon with this year and surely to beat them it would take a course record.

Ben Blackshaw, an unassuming personal trainer and ultra runner who has quietly been racking up impressive results over the last couple of years was approached to fill the last vacancy. 'Sure' said Ben. 'I've been left high and dry by my team as well'! Seems Ben, who was part of Team Vision Personal Training, knows the torment of what is finding new team mates too.

With the full compliment, we now had a team to give Quality Meats a run for their money. But no, there's more. Andy Lee, who has been killing the short course trail running circuit, thought best to step aside to save (presumably) his speed for these races. 2 steps forward, 1 step back!

It was then we perused the Trailwalker website and noticed that team Quality Meats hadn't raised a cent in fundraising, which begged the question, were they also finding it tough to keep their team together too?

Surely not? But another spate of phone calls later confirmed it...yes, it was true. So in the spirit of 'if you can't beat them, join them', into the motley crue that we could now call a team came Trailwalker legend and Quality Meater Jono O'Loughlin. The team, showing remarkable foresight for a bunch of blokes, has even got good mate and fellow Quality Meater Chris 'Bull' Turnbull on standby as a late reserve. Chris I'd keep up the training if I were you mate...

Please help us get to the start line with the fundraising target well and truly covered. Thank you to Hammer Nutrition for being our team sponsor and covering us in quality kit and feeding us during our training and racing with all your great products.

We will do this!

Here is the link to our Oxfam Trailwalker Teampage

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Sad Week for Oz Trail Running

Barry Golding
It's been a tough week for Australian Trail Running with the loss of two very prominent figures of the sport. It's always sad to hear when one of the community passes, let alone two.

Barry Golding was a man who I had the pleasure to chatting to a couple of times and I was immediately struck by his enthusiasm and community mindedness. He was a very active athlete, coach and mentor to many on the Northern Beaches of Sydney that he had, and for many years to come, will have a lasting affect on. I've read many Facebook tributes this week that spoke of his selfless giving of his time and expertise which not only introduced many to the beautiful sport of running but helped those also achieve their many running goals. In the conversations I had with Barry I could sense that he had the best interests of the sport at heart.

Roger Guard and his wife Jill, were two of the 28 Australian victims of the MH17 tragedy. Roger was a prominent doctor in Toowoomba and a seven time finisher of the Glasshouse 100 miler and from all accounts a very active member of the Queensland trail running scene. I didn't know Roger, but many fellow New South Welsh trail runners who did travel up to race in Queensland did and have only very nice things to say about him.

My thoughts go out to all the family and friends of Barry and Roger and this weekend, I hope we can all take a moment to reflect, whether it's during a training run or a race, on two lives lost and the legacy they have left on their separate running communities.

Roger Guard

Monday, July 7, 2014

Western States 100 Miles – 15:56:49 & M8!



That moment had finally come. With a minute to go 400 nervous and excited runners stood in the morning darkness under the starting gantry at Squaw Valley. Race originator Gordy Ainsleigh took the microphone and began his pre-race pep talk. He got a bit off track and someone yelled out ’20 seconds Gordy!’ just as he was reaching his crescendo moment. His Henry V quote was drowned out as the crowd countdown started. The starter lifted his shotgun. That moment had finally started.

Western States is a big, no gigantic, deal. To get into this prestigious and historic race was a dream come true. Call me a nostalgic and old skool trail runner, but this race just appeals to me on so many levels. Firstly, I love the history, the mystique and the characters of this race. Secondly, I love the course; a true A – B course over challenging, variable terrain following a significant route. I love the range of environmental conditions encountered and I love the race because it is just so strategic. Lastly, and personally, this race does suit my strengths. It’s a very runnable race and I will always favour these types of courses.

My preparation was smooth and followed a well considered plan (as I’ve written about previously). I was healthy, happy, strong, fit and fast (enough). I even had the opportunity to spend a couple of weeks in the US prior training with previous WS finisher Beth Cardelli; acclimatising initially to the heat and gaining course familiarisation in Auburn and then in the last week making plenty of trips above 2500m to top up the altitude acclimatisation which had started in the Hypoxic Chamber at Valley Fitness. Lastly, the ultimate ‘cherry on top’ was following my ANZ mates over in Chamonix kicking arse at the SkyRunning World Champs, then Scotty Hawker at Laveredo. I was inspired and it filled me with so much confidence going into my race.

Start line nerves.
Photo: Tom Landon-Smith
My race plan was pretty simple; keep it very comfortable and minimise muscular damage until the ‘halfway’ point of the race at Foresthill at 100km. This marks the end of the major descents and torturous canyon climbs and from here it’s pretty open and fast running, but only if one has the legs to do it and can handle the conditions of the day.

3, 2, 1…Boom! The wait was over. Off we went climbing up from Squaw Valley to the Escarpment in the darkness. Before long the early morning light was stretching over Lake Tahoe. I reached the summit with the lead group, and hit the rolling downhill towards Lyons Ridge CP. I would have been in the top 5 and was happy with the pace. I settled behind Miguel Heras who looked relaxed and ready for a big day. Some of the WS veterans were commenting how lucky we were to have such a dry, snowless course. The trail was tricky though, loose granite stones made foot placing difficult at times.

After leaving the CP and running through now semi-dense pine forest I began to get the urge to go to the loo. In over 250 races and many many ultras, I have never had to go do a number two, perhaps it was the altitude but before I knew it I was clenching tight to avoid a full on blow out. I desperately looked around for a suitable forested area to ease my discomfort, but the pines were thinly spread and offer little cover at their base level. I decided to hold on until the next CP at Red Star and go there, whether they had port-a-loos or not, I was going!

Running up in the high country.
Photo Kym Wrinkle, iRunFar
And go I did! I think the toilet (a small lined bucket) was meant for the aid station volunteers but they were gracious enough to let me use it (but they may have regretted that later!) With that over, I felt released and began chasing down those that had passed me during my sojourn. I soon caught up to the always friendly Yoshikazu Hara and passed Ryan Sandes while he was relieving himself in the bushes next to the trail. Always the pro! I took off after Nick Clark and Ian Sharman who was walking most of the ups and just destroying the downs. I thought that he was a good guy to follow, he is just so consistently successful on this course.

Sometime when I was running behind Nick I kicked a rock or a root very hard and took a fall, taking some skin off my fingers and causing a lot of pain to a toe on my left foot. Soon came Duncan’s Canyon which is remarkably deceiving. I hadn’t been out on this section and while the descent was free flowing fun, I was surprised on how long the climb out of the canyon was. It was hard work, but I kept the slow grind going, gradually pulling in some time on Ian as he hiked the little steeper ups.

Reaching Robinson’s Flat, this was the first time I got to see my crew. I got there and took my second 500ml water flask as I had planned to do and downed a 250ml flask of Perpetuem which I was using alongside Hammer Gels as my fueling strategy. I also attached an icy bandanna. The trail from here is simply stunning, gently descending on beautiful single track around the side of a mountain and through fields of wildflowers. Hitting Millers Defeat the trail becomes very open and double width. It’s here too when I was introduced to the dust. Ann Trason, 14 time winner of Western States, has said that you inhale so much dust during the race that the race gets in your blood. It certainly was, especially when Alex Varner passed and was running in front of me, I couldn’t see the trail due to the dust cloud he was kicking up so decided that the best thing to do was run beside him. We introduced ourselves and I was very impressed that for someone running his first miler how he wasn’t afraid to mix it up with the lead bunch early.

Running through the beautiful beginning stages.
Photo: Glenn Tachiyama
Reaching the very aptly named Dusty Corners, the trail heads towards the next major canyon descent, Deadwood Canyon. Running towards the ominously named Last Chance aid station Ian again came into view. I was loving the regularity of the aid stations, this one was only 5km from the last. Beats the 20-25km distances I’m used to in Australia! Apart from being weighed, I pretty much ran through this CP to great encouragement from the entourage of Aussies that were volunteering there. I really got a big lift out of that and charged off to cheers of ‘Aussie Aussie Aussie’! Thanks so much John and Lara!

Half way down the descent Ian surprisingly came hurtling down behind me and told me he had a toilet break at Last Chance…quite a trend this toilet thing! Normal proceedings ensued as Ian passed by. But having Ian coming up from behind made me work the downhill harder than I would have usually done and by the bottom I was happy to see we had both caught Alex and also a runner I hadn’t seen since the start, David Laney. I enjoyed cooling off in the creek at the bottom and felt very determined to run the whole canyon climb as I had done in training a week prior.

I caught David who was powerhiking it and stuck to my guns to not overdo it. Slow, steady grind up the 36 switchbacks. Alex was run/walking and always within sight while Ian had powerhiked it really well and taken off. At Devil’s Thumb, so named for the unusual rock formation at the top, it is 2 canyons down and 2 to go and mentally I was right on top of my race. I felt it had gone pretty much to plan. The next canyon was going to be the big test.

Climbing up from El Dorado Ck. Ryan (behind) didn't stay there for
too much longer.
Photo: Tanner Johnson
I descended the El Dorado Ck canyon well, again on my own. It is a very long descent but never too steep in any section. The downhill was when I felt the pain on my toe the most. The incredibly friendly aid station at the bottom (perhaps the biggest hike in for any aid station volunteers, and no doubt the hottest location) were incredible, taking my water flasks and filling them as I was sponged down with icy water and taking some gels. It was very efficient. The climb up is tough, not as switchy as the last canyon, but deceptively long. About three-quarters of the way up Ryan Sandes came charging up and passed by, he was definitely putting in on this climb. He is a champion and he had the steely determined look in his eye to catch those in front. My plan was to remain patient until Foresthill and then give it all. It was a little early for me to go.

Putting on an ice cold singlet at
the Michigan Bluff CP
Photo: 川田友広
Reaching Michigan Bluff CP, Nadine had everything ready to go. I changed singlets into an icy cold one, changed my visor to a legionnaires style cap and took 2 new softflasks with icy cold water. I downed another Perpetuem and restocked my gels and Enduralytes. All done in under a minute, perfect. As I left the CP, Ryan was only a hundred or so metres down the road and I was desperate to attach back on. The next leg descends the last canyon, the smallest but the most exposed and now we were reaching the heat of the day. Volcano Canyon is very well named! It was beginning to get really hot but the new shirt, sponge downs, ice bandanna and new cap with the flappy bit out the back was working wonders. I was also spraying myself with the water from my softflask.
Running to a conservative plan, I got to Foresthill in 9th spot and feeling great (Miguel had dropped at Michigan Bluff). I had kept up a steady sustained effort rarely reaching threshold. I was now ready to unleash and reel in the carnage that I was sure would occur in front of me; surely the pace of the front runners couldn’t be sustained and they would fall victim to the conditions of the day or their own aching body.

And run quickly I did! With my Inov-8 team mate and pacer Scott Dunlap pushing me along, I ripped into the next major ‘Cal Street’ legs passing 3 runners, Mike Aish, Alex and Ian and got to the river crossing in 6th spot. After taking some food and water on board before the crossing, I lost 6th spot to Ian Sharman who ran through the checkpoint and got to the crossing first.

The river crossing was a little hairy. They had only decided less than an hour earlier to have the runners wade their way through the water instead of rafting them over. This decision is based on the depth of the river and apparently it was just low enough. When this decision is made, they then close the water gates upstream to decrease the flow. However when the leading pack got there, the current was still quite strong and we had to shimmy across the cable hand over hand. One slip there and we would have been taken downstream!

Entering the mightily refreshing American River.
Photo: Jason Thompson
The last 35km of the race were mostly on beautiful buttery single track and I was continuing to push on; even though brain fatigue was setting in and stomaching gels was becoming a challenge. My new pacer, Ben and I both set off after those in front and experience has told me that the last 20km in milers is where positions come the easiest if one has the legs. My legs felt strong; my quads were benefitting from the downhill conditioning I had put them through in the lead up, energy levels were still strong and my technique was still very sound. I had a potential top 5 and the rare ‘finish in daylight’ in front of me! Ben was very encouraging offering good advice to keep me composed, mentally positive and my technique in order. We flew to Auburn Lakes Trail along buttery single track, and then pushed harder to Brown's Bar where Hal Koerner was the Aid Station captain. He let me know that I was within a minute of Ian and looking strong. But as much as I pushed, those in front were up to the challenge!

Coming into the last 11km, the big efforts were beginning to show and I hit a small low patch coming into the HWY49 checkpoint on a tricky, technical bit of trail. It was probably a little bit of ego, up to now I hadn't walked a step of the course and I was determined to run the entirety. Unfortunately it pushed me over the edge and Alex Varner, with whom I had had a ding dong battle with all day passed by and I was in 8th spot. (Later Ben described this well as our own little 'Unbreakable' moment, for it was here where Roes passed Anton in that epic race). I walked and regrouped for about 800m and at the CP took on lots of sugar (thanks Alina!) and started to get life back into my eyes. Daniel Kroeger was my new pacer, and we were both hoping to catch Alex again and any other flailing runners. We had a strong last leg, down to No Hands Bridge and running up to Robie Point, but it wasn’t to be. Even though my Foresthill to finish split was one of the quickest on the day, the top 4 stayed incredibly strong and maintained some of the advantage they had built up over me in the initial race stages and Ryan, Ian and Alex closed the race brilliantly. Rarely does a miler pan out like this and its truly inspiring stuff really.

In the end, I crossed over on the athletics track at Placer High School in 8th place in 15:56:49. A sub 16h time totally exceeded all my expectations. I have joined a small group of runners to go under this benchmark and feel privileged to have been in the race that now has the new record for the most sub 16 finishers (and no, I didn't need my headlamp!)

That awesome feeling when a plan comes off!
Photo: Chris Jones
A top 10 finish means automatic entry for next year’s race. If life lets me take up the invitation, rest assured that the lessons learned in this year’s experience will be invaluable. Perhaps I will take a slightly more risk taking attitude with my early pace and push even harder on the downhills and flatter sections. But you can count on one thing, if I am standing at Squaw Valley in a year’s time, I won’t be there to fill the top 10, I’ll be cougar hunting.

One simply doesn’t take an entry into this race for granted. To give it anything but your best in training and the ultimate in race performance would be sacrilegious to the bib number worn. When the trail running gods give you an entry to 'States', you simply owe them your very best. I feel on the day, I gave them just that.

Things that worked well:
  • Hydration. Loved the new Inov-8 500ml soft flasks! They were efficient and quick to refill. When I knew I would have more water than I needed to drink on a leg I would use them to squirt my face and neck.
  • Fuelling. The strategy of a Hammer Gel every 40minutes and a 250ml strong mix of Perpetuem at the major aid stations kept me stable and strong all race. A great little app for my Suunto Ambit 2 reminded me via an alarm to do this which was very handy!
  • Electrolyte replenishment. A Hammer Enduralyte every 30 minutes, sometimes two in the heat of the day kept all the muscles firing solidly.
  • Cooling strategies. Replacing my singlet with an iced singlet at the crewed CPs was perfect. Sponging and wetting myself as much as possible at every opportunity (dunking myself in creeks, wetting my hat in horse troughs etc) kept my core body temperature down. The ice bandanna was perfect on my neck. Thanks to Marcus Warner for the tips!
  • Race strategy. It played out really well. I was conservative early without letting the leaders get too far in front. I pushed on from the 100k mark and couldn’t have pushed any harder.
Indebted to:
  • My awesome crew, Nadine for putting so much planning into not just the day but the entire trip over. Her crewing was perfect and it’s really a team effort. Couldn’t do this without you!
  • Scott Dunlap, Ben Zuehlsdorf and Daniel Kroeger for giving their day up to pace me.
  • Alina and Tom Landon-Smith. Thank you so much Alina for supporting Nadine on the day, your presence definitely alleviated Nadine’s anxiety about flying solo. Thanks Tom for the support too!
  • Beth and Brian Cardelli and Beth’s mum Joan for being awesome travel partners the whole trip and making sacrifices for Beth and I to reccie the course. 
  • Ultra Trail World Tour and Inov-8 for making it possible. This result will now consolidate my spot in the top bracket in the Ultra Trail World Tour.
Wore:
  • Inov-8 TrailRoc 255
  • Injinji 2.0 Mini-crew toesocks
  • 2XU Elite Compression Short
  • Inov-8 singlet
  • Inov-8 Race Peak 30 Cap
Used:
  • Inov-8 0.5 Softflasks
  • UltrAspire Quantum Belt
Sustained by:
  • Hammer Gels
  • Hammer Perpetuem
  • Hammer Enduralytes
The Mens and Womens Top 10
Photo: Joe McCladdie